Morris takes a break from his pitching to get caught in the crossfire of a death-defying snowball fight. The perpetrators are a group of merchants known as the “Downtown Contingent.” This mysterious group of retailers occupies the rundown shops and boutiques in Town Square, and is constrained to some rather bizarre sales practices – not the least of which is being allowed to sell only one item at a time. Morris has never built a sufficient level of trust with any of these people since arriving in Silt Ridge, and he considers himself at risk in the raging firestorm of whizzing snowballs. He wonders if the men and women flamethrowers are missing him on purpose. Then he wonders if they are employing technology that was supposed to have been banned a long, long time ago . . .

Introducing . . . the Downtown Contingent

Snowballs Heat Up the Night

Whoosh! A snowball sizzles past my left ear at supersonic speeds. Whap! It explodes across a granite wall hard enough to cause pockmarks and dislodge mortar. Whoosh! Then another. Whap! Whap! Whap! And more and more and more after that.

After whiffing on my first two pitches with Noreen, I’m trying to blow off steam. I shovel the wide, sweeping marble stairs leading from the will call office of the Graphite County Opera House down to the Silt Ridge Town Square.


A Real Fancy Place – at One Point . . .

Town Square is a spellbinding plaza featuring an enormous, ornate fountain. It represents the convergence of cobblestone streets from all parts of town. “Where the Miners Meet the Merchants” used to be the rallying cry of this sumptuous retail district. A lot has changed over the last couple centuries: there was a time, when it was a real fancy place inhabited by stunning and magnificent horse-drawn carriages.

Who knows? Unless things get back up to speed, we may be returning to that way of life sooner than we think.

And I pose this to you: would that be such a bad thing?

And You Thought BOGO was a Hardscrabble Deal . . .

Arcane laws allow the merchants of the Downtown Contingent to sell only one item at a time. I know, I know . . . this can be very disconcerting, especially around Christmas, but hear me out: each business carries a single item that is one-of-a-kind in the world. One shop, for instance, may sell a single pair of shoes. A lone sequined dress from France might be showcased in the next establishment. The neighboring shop may have only one overcoat for sale.

The whopping price tags reflect their limited edition status. It’s the same for all the shops. There is never a “half-off” sale or Heaven forbid, “Buy-One-Get-One-Free” (the dreaded “Curse of the BOGO”).

Don’t Think You Can Get Away with This

In the past, problems arose when a merchant tried to sell more than one item at a time. This was considered underhanded dealing and poor business practice. It made everyone look bad. Offending parties were severely punished. No one wanted this to get out into the community, because then there would be a boycott. There was a great amount of shame if someone thought they were buying something that was one-of-a-kind in the world, and then found out later it was a false claim.

The snowball fight may have been an offshoot of the Downtown Contingent policing its own ranks. Someone might have gotten out of line, and punishment was merely being meted out in due course.

Soon though, snowballs start shattering windows, never a good sign. A couple of merchants are sprawled on the ground; a few stagger around dazed and confused.

Getting an Earful of Snow is never a Good Thing at 208 MPH

 I hit the deck just as a solo rocket whizzes past. This is getting way too close for comfort. Breathing heavily from my prone position, I looked up with a great deal of trepidation to check if the coast was clear.

And then I realize something . . .

The way they are throwing, they may have unearthed a stockpile of bionic arms.